The joy and the pain came together for Luis Diaz. Bruised but brilliant, he ensured Brighton were beaten. For Liverpool, it was comfortable progress. An eighth straight win halved their deficit to Manchester City to three points. The title race remains very much on.
A January signing has given Jurgen Klopp’s side added impetus and even on the day when Mohamed Salah reached 20 goals in a Premier League season for a fourth time, in turn taking Liverpool to 2,000 in the competition, the Colombian was their courageous catalyst.
Robert Sanchez smashed into Diaz as he scored his second Liverpool goal. Once he had picked himself off the turf, he resumed his work of tormenting Brighton. His combination of pace, directness and ferocious work ethic underlined the sense he is a natural fit for Klopp’s brand of football. “He was unplayable at times,” said Andy Robertson.
Diaz’s goal combined the admirable with the reprehensible. Fresh from winning the Premier League’s player-of-the-month award for February, Joel Matip staked an early case to retain the award. He curled a pass over the Brighton defence in the manner of Trent Alexander-Arnold. Diaz timed his run perfectly and displayed the bravery to head the ball in as he was clattered. “It is what a striker has to do and he did really well,” Klopp said. “He is the only person who knows exactly how quick he is. To get in there with the head is brave.”
But it was reckless, dangerous and hideous from Sanchez, amounting to an unwanted impression of Toni Schumacher’s infamous challenge in the 1982 World Cup; somehow the officials did not deem it a red card. His manager provided the case for the defence. “I think it was an accidental one; the quality of the pass and the run has been too much for him,” Graham Potter said. Sanchez made a more legitimate intervention to save Diaz’s 90th-minute shot and deny him a second.
An early red card might have led to a rout. Against 11 men, Klopp noted: “We had our chances.” Salah ended what was a drought, at least by his standards, rifling a spot kick into the roof of the net after Yves Bissouma handled Naby Keita’s shot.
Before his first goal in four games, Salah had been relentless, if also a little selfish. After hitting both posts against Inter Milan, he struck the bar with a shot that looped up off Lewis Dunk. He had dragged a shot wide while he was denied by Sanchez when he sprang a counter-attack and surged past Bissouma. He was the supplier when Sanchez tipped Sadio Mane’s close-range shot past the post. Salah departed early, potentially hurt.
“Something is not 100 per cent right,” said Klopp. “The foot got slightly overstretched but he thinks it is not serious.” There might be an unfortunate irony for Liverpool if, after the assault on Diaz, Salah was the scorer who gets sidelined.
But the team rolled on. “Consistency is the most difficult thing in football but the most exhausting as well,” Klopp reflected. Brighton have the wrong sort: after only losing four of their first 24 league matches, they have five straight defeats, their worst run in the division. Their day was summed up when Adam Lallana came on and limped off a few minutes later.
They are the joint lowest scorers at home this season and profligacy is a familiar problem. The recalled Neal Maupay fizzed an early shot wide. When he picked out Leandro Trossard at the start of the second half, the Belgian blazed wastefully over. Alisson made a brilliant late save from Danny Welbeck. “Ali deserved his clean sheet,” Klopp concluded.